Email-based attacks, particularly business email compromise (BEC) and ransomware, are up. Confidence in security defenses is down. Internal threats and data leaks are more prevalent. Better protection, threat intelligence and awareness training are desperately needed to strengthen cyber resilience.

These are the key takeaways from the Mimecast State of Email Security Report 2019, a survey of more than 1,000 IT decision-makers that focused on different types of threats and how organizations are being affected. Because the report is loaded with valuable, relevant information, we’ll summarize the findings in a two-part post.

There’s a reason why 61 percent of respondents say an email-based attack will likely or inevitably cause a negative business impact.All attack methods, from phishing and BEC to insider threats, are on the rise. Losses are mounting. As a result, IT decision-makers are losing confidence in their ability to stop the bleeding.

Consider the following:

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents report an increase in BEC or impersonation attacks, which typically target senior executives. These attacks directly resulted in a loss of customers, money and/or data for 73 percent of victims.
  • Ninety-four percent experienced a phishing attack in the past year. More than half (54 percent) report an increase in phishing attacks, while 45 percent report an increase in spear-phishing attacks that target small groups or individuals.
  • Eighty-eight percent experienced email-based spoofing of business partners or vendors in the past year. Forty-one percent report an increase in spoofing attacks as criminals target money, sensitive data and user credentials.

These types of email-based attacks are difficult to detect because they rely more on social engineering and human psychology than sophisticated technology. Again, IT decision makers aren’t feeling too confident in their ability to stop these threats.

Internal threats are a growing problem.  Seventy-one percent of respondents report malicious activity spreading among internal users in the past year, with infected email attachments and URLs being the top threats. Forty-one percent said data leaks increased during the past year. About one-third of respondents admit that their email security systems were ineffective at monitoring emails from internal users. These tools also struggle to automatically detect and remove malicious emails from inboxes.

Despite increased awareness and more sophisticated defenses, ransomware attacks are still on the rise. In fact, attacks are up 26 percent from a year ago. Fifty-three percent of respondents report that a ransomware attack impacted business operations, nearly double the total from the previous year. Eighty-six percent of those impacted experienced at least two days of downtime. Think about what would happen if your network and IT resources were down for multiple days.

Part of the problem is that many organizations are relying on native email security offered by providers such as Office 365. However, many email-based attacks are passing through undetected. According to Mimecast’s latest quarterly Email Security Risk Assessment, 11 percent of suspected emails contained spam, malicious URLs, malware, or impersonation but were missed by the email provider’s built-in security tools. Stronger email security on top of native tools has become essential.

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll discuss the real-world impact of email-based data breaches and how organizations can reduce risk.